Including our key scripture, John 3:16, many passages throughout the New Testament clearly teach, that everyone who believes in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins and receive salvation.
For example, Paul stated in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”. It is a promise of God that if we by faith, believe in Jesus, we will one day enter into heaven.
Sadly, many have misinterpreted this scriptural truth to mean that all they need to do is believe about Jesus—in other words, know who he is, know about Christmas and the nativity, know about Easter and the cross, know that he was kind and loving—to receive the benefit of all His promised blessings.
This is why you’ll see all kinds of celebrities, wearing a cross around their neck as they thank Jesus Christ for helping them win their award or championship, just before they head off the stage or the field for a night of celebrative debauchery.
What they, and so many others, celebrity or everyday folk, do not understand is what Jesus and the New Testament writers actually meant by the directive to "believe. Many who claim to be Christians, assume that this word simply means to recognize Jesus as the Saviour of mankind, and that nothing else is required to receive eternal life other than belief in Jesus.
But if we follow that reasoning, we would suggest that people can live lives of sexual immorality, lying, stealing, killing—breaking every commandment of God—and because they know who Jesus is and what he did, they will still receive eternal life.
So let me show you in three simple points, how Jesus and the writers of the New Testament explained what believing in Jesus means.
To believe means to accept all that Jesus taught
One day on a mountainside, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men plus women and children, by multiplying five loaves of bread and two small fish. You may be familiar with the story, but let’s read it together, John 6, beginning at verse 1.
Jesus crossed over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous signs as he healed the sick. 3 Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with his disciples around him. 4 (It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration.) 5 Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?”
6 He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!”
8 Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. 9 “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”
10 “Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. 12 After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” 13 So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.
14 When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!”
These men saw that Jesus truly was of God. After Jesus left the mountainside, many who had eaten the miraculous meal came searching for Him. They wanted Jesus to perform another miracle, saying that this would help them believe Him (verse 30).
Instead of performing another miracle, Jesus took some time to teach them. He explained that, unlike the physical bread they had eaten, He was the true bread who had come down from heaven to give eternal life to the world (verses 32-33).
He told them that His followers would need to "feed on me” (vs. 57) referring to the symbols of bread and wine in the annual Passover service and internalizing what these meant, affirming their covenant relationship with Him. This would ultimately lead to eternal life (verse 58).
Many of those listening to Jesus, including His own disciples, found this teaching difficult to understand (verse 60). So Jesus spoke up again and said to them, "'But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them who did not believe and who would betray Him." After this, "many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (verses 64, 66).
What I want you to see in this story, is that many of these same people who had said that they believed Jesus was "the Prophet" whose coming was foretold by Scripture (verse 14), did not believe what Jesus said.
What Jesus meant by believing in Him included believing everything He said. It meant far more than just accepting free food and benefits that He was offering.
To believe means to have Faith in Jesus, and not in your self
No matter how hard and how long we work at pulling ourselves up and becoming righteous, it remains that only our Faith in Jesus Christ guarantees a safe passage to eternal life in the presence of God.
Compare his offer with that of other religions:
Judaism sees salvation as a Judgment Day decision based on morality.
Hindus anticipate multiple reincarnations in the soul’s journey through the cosmos.
Buddhism grades your life according to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
Muslims earn their way to Allah by per-forming the duties of the Five Pillars of Faith.
Many philosophers deem life after the grave as hidden and unknown. One called death a step into “the great Perhaps” another, “a great leap in the dark.”
No one but Jesus “buckles you in.” You may slip—indeed you will—but you will not fall. Hence the invitation to believe “in him.” Don’t believe in you; you can’t save you. And don’t believe in others; they can’t save you.
To many people clump Christ with Moses, Muhammad, Confucius, and other spiritual leaders. But Jesus refuses to share his rightful authority. He declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6 RSV).
To Believe means having the will to obey
Genuine belief in Jesus is not a passive experience. Believers in Jesus will act on His teaching! Claiming to love Jesus without obeying his commands is living a lie. John 8:31 “Jesus said to the people who believed in him, "You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings”.
When it comes to deciding what believing in Jesus means, why not believe and act on what Jesus Himself said? There are so many practical things that Jesus instructed, but let’s simplify it for today and quickly look at what Jesus stressed as the greatest commandment.
When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, he quickly quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and quickly added the intent of Leviticus 19, that we should love our neighbours as much as we love ourselves.
To love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is to live for God above everything else. It is to use all that God has given you—your heart, your thoughts and even your physical energy for Him and His purposes.
This magnificent obsession to serve Jesus with everything that you have, is what compels some believers to go anywhere God asks them to go, to do anything God asks them to do, and to say anything He asks them to say, at any cost.
Essentially it's the opposite of how most of us live our lives, because if we're going to be honest we all spend the majority of our time living for ourselves. Our goals and efforts are all directed at being happy and feeling fulfilled. But that is a self-centered existence.
God wants us to live our lives for Him—to please Him and serve Him. To do that with nothing standing in the way is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
But believing in Jesus doesn’t stop with our love for God; it includes loving everybody around us.
Drawing from Leviticus 19, Jesus intended that loving our neighbor would include sharing with the poor and the alien; compassion and absolute honesty and justice in our relationships with others; impartiality; a refusal to be a party to gossip or slander; an absence of malice toward anyone and a refusal to bear a grudge; taking care never to put another’s life at risk and never taking private vengeance upon another.
When we believe in Jesus, it must be evidenced by the fact that we not only love God, but also the people he created in his own image.
Here is our takeaway from this teaching:
Jesus offers us abundant life if we simply in faith come to him and say you are the Lord of my life and I will live for you all the days of my life on earth, so I can worship you eternally in Heaven.
I believe everything you said, I acknowledge that I can never experience abundant eternal life without your grace and mercy, and I will do my best to obey everything you instruct me to do.
Next week we will begin to look at what it means to never perish, but instead to live forever.
Pastor Craig Eagle